Animating the Disney Parks: Herb Ryman

Erin Glover

by , Director, Publicity, Walt Disney Animation Studios

Walt Disney and Disney Legend Herb Ryman

Last week, I told you about a presentation I attended during the recent D23’s Destination D – “Animating the Disney Parks.” We’ve already learned about Claude Coats and how he brought his talents as a Disney artist to designing Disneyland. Today we’ll take a look at Disney Legend Herb Ryman, as remembered by former Imagineer Eddie Sotto at D23’s Destination D event.

Disneyland Concept Art Designed by Disney Legend Herb Ryman

An art director and designer, Ryman was hired by Walt Disney in 1954 to create the original concept drawings for Disneyland. Walt needed something for his brother, Roy Disney, to show to investors during his initial pitches for the new park.

“Herb was a place master,” remembered Sotto. He understood production design and used historical context to bring real meaning to the places he created at Disneyland. When designing Sleeping Beauty Castle, he visited the famous Neuschwanstein castle in Germany; his visits to New Orleans during the development of New Orleans Square brought a realism to the area.

New Orleans Square Rendering Designed by Disney Legend Herb Ryman

Ryman’s work was “placemaking of the highest order,” according to Sotto, who went on to say that it was his understanding of soul and emotion that made the places he created believable. Ryman knew that life is what informs action – “It’s not just places; it’s what we do in the places” that matters, Sotto said.

Sotto remembered that Ryman was known for this piece of advice: “Be specifically vague.” He meant that designers should create something that anyone could relate to. “He allowed us to see ourselves there,” recalled Sotto.


  • Another exceptional post about the history of the parks, and the incredible talents behind them, nice Erin! It brings to mind a recent podcast I heard where Sam Gennaway talked about how Disney parks are so inviting, so much fun to be at b/c they feel familiar to people, that you can’t help but think when you’re at the parks that you can relate to them. Thanks Herb!

    • Thank you, Dustin! I was so captivated by the presentations – it’s amazing to think of all the different talents that were needed to create Disneyland.

  • Herb was definitely one of the masters. I love his concept art for EPCOT and the communities of Progress City.

    The next time you’re at Disneyland, check out a little tree to the right of the castle, near Snow White’s wishing well….that’s Herb’s final Christmas tree. Purchased by his friend [and biographer] John Donaldson.

  • That is the picture on the wall in the Port Orleans French Quarter rooms, isn’t it?

  • I am an avid enthusiast of DISNEY artwork because I am an artist myself. I so enjoyed the quotes by Ryman and especially the NEW ORLEAN’S SQUARE landscape. And indeed, as Ryman wanted, I could SEE myself there. As if I were headed straight for PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN attraction, to be followed by a firefly and star lit lunch at BLUE BAYOU Restaurant. Thanks to DPB and Herb Ryman for adding substance to two of my most beloved DISNEY memories. ___ Jon

  • Thank you so much for sharing this, Erin! Herb Ryman has had a special place in my heart ever since my trip to Disneyland in 2009. Back then, the Disneyland Hotel still had Ryman’s map of Disneyland on the entertainment system doors. Everytime I see that artwork, I remember how amazing that trip was.

    On a sidenote, does anyone know if Art of Disney has ever made a print of Ryman’s map available? I’d love to have a copy in my home.

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